Make world better place: Oppose racism, don’t condone It

According to road signs that went up last spring, Bainbridge Island welcomes all. Despite the signs, People of Color on Bainbridge are being harmed by biased words, actions, attitudes and systems in our public spaces. This harm is condoned by our silence. As islanders working for equity in our community, we are speaking up to oppose this racist harm. We realize that most residents are unaware of what’s been happening, and we hope that by learning about this, you will join us in changing it.

Here are examples of recent harmful incidents:

• Planning Commission and Race Equity Advisory Committee Women of Color were targeted with harassing emails and comments for actions taken by city committees, while other committee members were not subjected to the same treatment.

• A Black city councilwoman was censored for calling out racist behavior. How can we address racism if we cannot name it when it occurs?

• Attendees at school board meetings were subject to harm from public comments that used biased words, body language and accusations. All people have a right to speak, but as witnesses to harm we all have a duty to respond.

• Asian American women endured racist comments in public places, and no bystanders spoke up to interrupt this harm.

• Parents Defending Education, a national organization challenging equity policies and practices in districts across the country as being biased against white students, submitted a freedom of information request to BI School District for “diversity, inclusion, equity and anti-racism” information that will take the district years and additional staff to fulfill.

• Books in our school libraries and curricula about race, history and whiteness are being challenged by local members of the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism which is a national organization with similar goals to Parents Defending Education.

How much longer will we deny the truth of our nation’s racist history? We cannot heal the past until we acknowledge it.

When public officials in the name of protocol, neighbors in the name of cordiality and comfort, and many of us in the name of “not-my-problem,” allow bias to go unchecked, we perpetuate a culture of complicity that harms those already marginalized, weakens our connections to one another and hurts us all.

Bainbridge, it’s time to speak up, even if it’s simply: “This feels wrong.” We encourage everyone to help shift our island’s culture by actively opposing racial harm.

Here are some ways to start:

• Find the courage to say something in the moment. Silence condones and perpetuates harm. It might be uncomfortable at first, but it gets easier as we speak truth.

• Don’t belittle or name-call. Instead, describe the behavior, name the problem and seek solutions.

• Use words carefully. Language changes, so research and learn. Acknowledge individuals and groups by the terms they prefer. It’s not up to us to define the identities of groups to which we do not belong.

• Pay attention to the dynamics of privilege and power. How much space, time and energy are we taking up? Who is making the decisions? Who is impacted by the decisions and how? Are voices of marginalized groups included in decision-making?

• Consider how something affects the whole community, not just those in the majority. If we wouldn’t say something in front of someone in a marginalized group, let’s not say it at all.

• When we make mistakes, which we all do, let’s be accountable, not defensive. Our impact on others matters more than our intention. If someone says that something we said or did caused harm, let’s hear them and apologize. Breathe. Listen. Learn.

If you’d like to help make the world a better place, we invite you to start right here, right now, on BI by becoming upstanders, not bystanders; interrupters, not condoners; welcomers, not ignorers. Join us at school board meetings, City Council meetings, community book club gatherings, at Kitsap Standing Up for Racial Justice, Kitsap Equity Race and Community Engagement Coalition, ERACE BI Team and at events celebrating the many cultures on this island.

Let’s do this difficult, meaningful work together. Let’s make our island a place where everyone really is welcome!

Janna Cawrse Esarey and other ERACE BI Team members.